A history of enterprise search 1948 – 2020

A history of enterprise search 1948 – 2020

by | May 27, 2020 | Search


The potential requirement for being able to search collections of documents can be traced back to a conference organized by the Royal Society in 1948. The first technical step was set out in a Masters thesis submitted to MIT in 1951 by Philip Bagley and entitled ‘Electronic digital machines for high-speed information searching’. Arguably this marked the start of enterprise search development. The pace of development in the 1950s and 1960s was very rapid, and by the 1970s the core features of an enterprise search application had been firmly established.  A directory published by the National Bureau of Standards in 1974 lists almost 50 vendors but most of these ran on dedicated mainframe and mini-computers.  The first software application products targeted specifically at a networked enterprise were released in in the mid-1980s.

Technical progress in the 1990s was significant and many specialized enterprise search vendors were established. Getting the message of the benefits of investing in enterprise search across to IT managers proved to be very difficult and many of even the most innovative vendors either closed down or were acquired. Those that flourished then became acquisition targets for global IT companies from 2007 onwards. Nevertheless, there are still around 50 vendors active in the market.

This 17page narrative chronology is a personal view of the development of enterprise search. The list of Wizards, the innovators in enterprise and web search compiled by Stephen Arnold, well illustrates the scale of the enterprise search business over the last three decades.  A History of Enterprise Search complements this resource and provides links to a wide range of documents and research papers. The report also lists out the sources used in its preparation. Information about errors, ommissions and additional sources would be appreciated. 

Martin White